Real Life

My father-in-law killed my soulmate

This brave mum is staying strong for their sons

Julie Thoms doesn’t know what to say when son Matthew asks when his daddy is coming home. The brutal truth about Aaron Roigard’s disappearance is painful for everyone, but especially for the wee boy who idolised him so much.

“Matthew misses his father something fierce,” says Julie, 32. “He used to ask every day where Aaron was – he’s slowed down now, but I know he still misses him.” In June 2014, Julie’s partner of five years, Aaron, kissed her goodbye and left their home in Auroa, Taranaki. “He said ‘I love you’ and walked out the door. That was the last time I saw him,” she tells.

In an extraordinary twist of events – and despite the fact Aaron’s body was never discovered – the man found guilty of his murder was his own father, David Roigard, 51. Says Julie, “My father-in-law has taken my soulmate and left his grandsons without their father.” She adds that Aaron, a kind and quiet farm worker, did only one thing wrong – trusting his father with his savings and his life.

Since 2007, Aaron, 27, had deposited up to half of his earnings – at least $66,100 in total – into a TSB bank account handled by his father. Aaron thought Roigard was investing the money into a high return investment on his behalf, but in truth, he was pocketing it. Julie says her father-in-law was a domineering man and that Aaron had been scared of him as a boy.

Bloody evidence

Aaron was told the so-called “investment” had matured in May 2014 and he went to meet his father on June 2, 2014, to talk about the purchase of a property he had his eye on. Police believe Roigard’s ruse was finally revealed to his son and that Aaron stood up to him for the first time in his life – with fatal consequences. David Roigard killed Aaron on the same farm where he had played as a child. A drop of blood, believed to come from the young dad, was later found on a wood-splitter.

For Julie, the brutality has left her and her boys – four-year-old Matthew and Liam, who turns two next week – with nothing. “David didn’t just take our savings, he robbed us of our future,” she tells. Julie and Aaron made a good team. Born and bred in rural Taranaki, they worked together on dairy farms in the area. “We both got up at 5am to milk,” she recalls. When the boys arrived, we took turns.” Aaron was loyal, hard-working and good-natured. “He was a smart man,” Julie recalls. “There was more to Aaron than people gave him credit for.”

For as long as Julie had known him, he had dreamed of buying his own farm. “It was stability and a future. Aaron had worked on other people’s farms since he’d left school and felt it was time to go out on his own.” The couple’s joint bank statements showed payments of up to $500 a fortnight going to an account at TSB, with the reference “Sovereign”.

Julie tells, “I asked to look at the statements, but Aaron said his father was handling it and not to worry. David knew what Aaron’s dream was and he used it to his advantage.” Julie says it is a consolation that her partner was happy on his last day. That morning, Aaron was heading to his parents’ farm near Opunake to talk about a property he thought the investment was paying for. “David said the farm was ours,” she reveals. “We had handed our notices in at work and packed up the house.”

Left: A family photo of Julie and Aaron. Right: David Roigard. It’s thought Aaron was killed because he found out his father had robbed him of his hard-earned savings.

Cruel intentions

At the time, Matthew was two and Liam was just five weeks old. “Aaron kissed Matthew goodbye and got on the floor to play with Liam,” she recalls. The young dad then walked out the door.

Phone records show Aaron called Julie from his parents’ farm at 12.02pm. “He said, ‘I will be home soon. I love you.’” By 12.12pm, he was dead.

In New Plymouth’s High Court in February, Justice Paul Heath sentenced David Roigard to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 19 years. A jury had earlier found him guilty of murder and eight charges of theft in a special relationship.

He continues to deny any involvement in Aaron’s disappearance and his son’s body has never been found. At sentencing, Justice Heath told Roigard, “You show no understanding of the enormity of your deceit and the evil act of killing your own son.” He added that Roigard had controlled Aaron, his own wife of 30 years and his daughter. Julie has had no contact with the Roigard family since Aaron was killed. She says the relief of seeing her father-in-law jailed for murder has been a hollow victory. She says she has lost her “soulmate” and that without a body, she is unable to lay her husband to rest.

In an effort to make a “fresh start” for her young family, Julie has moved to a friend’s dairy farm. She still gets up every morning at 5am – with little Matthew and Liam in tow – to milk 500 cows.

“I’m not a city girl. This is the life I know,” she tells. Julie says although Liam is too young to understand what happened to his dad, Matthew still suffers. And as the two-year anniversary of Aaron’s death approaches, Julie is planning a memorial service to help keep his memory alive. She tells, “He will be forever remembered by us and his close friends. I hope we are making him proud.” Asked how she manages to stay so strong, Julie says the answer is easy. “I’ve two good reasons to keep going – these two boys right here.”

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